Packwood labels diaries ‘very, very personal’



WASHINGTON (AP)—A nervous Senate debated sex, privacy and allegations of possible criminal conduct Monday in a historic effort to enforce a subpoena for Sen. Bob Packwood’s ‘‘very, very personal’‘ diaries.

‘‘The Ethics Committee cannot turn a blind eye’‘ to potential violations of criminal law and standards of conduct, Sen. Richard H. Bryan, the panel’s chairman, said in asserting a need for the diaries.

Members of the panel rose one by one to support the subpoena in generally quiet statements. But the argument between Bryan and Packwood, R-Ore. turned heated over Bryan’s assertion last week that Packwood may have violated the law.

‘‘The chairman has branded me all over this country as a criminal,’‘ Packwood complained, jabbing his hand in the air.

Bryan retorted, ‘‘My statement was only to the possibility of such criminal violations and was made in the context that this Senate needs to know of the potential gravity of the offense.’‘

The debate, sometimes emotional, sometimes stuck on legalities, raged on for nearly seven hours before senators gave up for the night and decided to continue on Tuesday.

Packwood had said earlier that his more than 8,000 pages of writings include entries on the sex lives of fellow lawmakers. He added Monday that the diaries included references to history-making events and matters that ‘‘are very, very personal.’‘

Even as he offered a last-minute compromise to a hushed Senate, Packwood described how he had put his innermost thoughts to writing, including ‘‘family heartaches, disappointment, irritation with the car repairman.’‘

He said a deal might be worked out if the committee would describe to him the potential criminal conduct it said it recently discovered in the diaries.

A Packwood aide said Monday morning that the senator was trying to negotiate a last-minute compromise, but there was no evidence of any talks once the debate moved to the Senate floor.

There, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., defended Packwood’s contention that the committee chairman went too far in his statement about potential criminality.

‘‘This proceeding has been seriously tainted by the word ‘criminal,’‘’ Warner said, adding that Bryan could have characterized the diary information simply as ‘‘misconduct.’‘

Bryan said he mentioned possible criminal conduct to counter ‘‘a barrage of disinformation’‘ by Packwood and his lawyers, who suggested the panel was on a fishing expedition.

The committee won a strong endorsement from Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

She said a vote in favor of the committee subpoena ‘‘sends a message to citizens throughout our nation that sexual misconduct in this Senate will be investigated to the fullest possible extent.’‘

Failure to back the committee, she said, ‘‘would send a clear message also to every woman in this country: if you are harassed, keep quiet, say nothing. The cards are stacked against you ever winning.’‘

The ethics committee is seeking authorization for a lawsuit that would request a court order to force compliance with the subpoena.

All eyes were on Packwood in the crowded yet hushed Senate chamber as he made his case. By turns combative and accommodating, he accused his colleagues on the ethics panel of acting as ‘‘prosecutor, jury and judge,’‘ but told the rest of the Senate the matter could be settled short of a showdown vote.

The debate focused on the clash between the ethics committee’s determined inquiry—which began with allegations of sexual misconduct and intimidation against Packwood—and the Oregon Republican’s assertion of his constitutional privacy rights.

Bryan, D-Nev., spoke of the Senate’s unprecedented moment when he told senators, ‘‘No member of the Senate, under investigation in any form by the Senate Ethics Committee, has ever in the history of the committee, refused to comply with a document request.’‘

The committee has been investigating allegations that Packwood made unwanted sexual advances to more than two dozen women and attempted to intimidate some of the accusers to keep them quiet.

Monday’s debate, however, focused on the committee’s discovery of entries outside those areas, which Bryan said could involve criminal conduct.

When the committee requested those entries, Packwood’s lawyers—who had been copying committee-designated pages—refused to provide them. The committee, having reviewed the diaries from 1969-89, then voted to subpoena the diaries from Jan. 1, 1989, to the present.

The full Senate now is deciding whether to vote to enforce that subpoena request.

Packwood, who has argued the committee has violated his right to privacy, spoke in his own defense. He paced the floor as he spoke, describing the diaries as so personal that even his former wife and children have not seen them.

Aware of the distress that several senators said they felt over the issue, Packwood said, ‘‘I know that no one wants to vote on this, and I know that no one wants to go to court, least of all me, least of all the Senate.’‘

He said that if the committee ‘‘would tell me specifically what these other things are’‘ that the committee discovered, ‘‘we might be able to work out some arrangement.’‘

‘‘But I can’t make that agreement because I don’t know what they are and I’m not going to guess at what they are,’‘ Packwood said.

Bryan disputed that position, saying, ‘‘I think it’s clear that Sen. Packwood’s counsel knew the nature of the concerns.’‘

While the committee, equally divided among Democrats and Republicans, voted unanimously for the subpoena, a crack in its unity appeared during the debate.

Vice Chairman Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., criticized Bryan’s disclosure last week that the committee had discovered what it believed was possible criminal misconduct.

‘‘It said more than the facts supported in my personal view,’‘ McConnell said. ‘‘Perhaps something will prove to be a criminal violation, perhaps not,’‘ McConnell said. ‘‘Any information we may have today … is inconclusive at best. It struck me as injudicious and inappropriate.’‘

But McConnell as well as Bryan accused Packwood lawyer James Fitzpatrick of making misleading statements that made it seem the Oregon Republican was far more accommodating than he was. They also blamed Fitzpatrick for issuing a statement—one repeated by Packwood—that the diaries included writings on the sex lives of lawmakers.

‘‘Suddenly this took on all the trappings of a lurid political side show,’‘ McConnell said, adding that Fitzpatrick tried to make the committee ‘‘look like a group of teen-agers prowling around for pornography.’‘

‘‘We’re not the Senate Select Committee on voyeurism,’‘ said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., a member of the panel.

Bryan said the subpoena was necessary because ‘‘there is no assurance … the committee will ever have access’‘ to the material.